Public Intellectualism in Comparative Context: Different Countries, Different Disciplines
Notre Dame Public Intellectuals Conference: Comment on Enrique Krauze: Latin America: Intellectuals or Intelligentsia?

Notre Dame Public Intellectualism Conference: Mark Lilla and My Instant Reaction

Mark Lilla: Caveat Lector:

I speak as a defender of liberal democracy. But I want to be a lucid one. I don't think it can be understood or defended without recognizing two things. First, that the finance-driven economy of today is no longer your mother's capitalism, and is threatening important democratic values around the world, including in the West, even the United States; and, second, that liberal democracy is not in the future in many countries of the world, and that to understand them we need to, well, understand them and not ourselves. During the Cold War I felt that the most important function the intellectual could serve was to expose and dismantle the radical ideologies of left and right that were spawned by the French Revolution, to hold other intellectuals responsible for the consequences of their ideas. That has been accomplished. The intellectual task before us today is different. It is to think the present, the way it actually is, and try to develop a coherent, historically grounded picture of it. As Alasdair Macintyre might have put it in an earlier stage of his career, "We are waiting not for a Godot, but for another--doubtless very different--Karl Marx.

My comment on his paper:

The puzzling thing from my perspective about Mark Lilla's talk was that he blames the current troubles in Europe on (a) a lack of coherent grand-narrative ideologies and (b) the power of international financial markets.

I would blame it on the weakness of international financial markets--the inability of banks and bankers to win the trust of people and so mobilize the risk-bearing capacity of the world to bear the risks of investing in a radically-uncertain future, and the unwillingness of governments to do what is necessary--either abandon the euro or move forward to the continent-wide banking regulatory union, fiscal transfer union, and political union necessary if the market is to be properly backstopped and regulated by the state. The problem is not that international financial markets are too strong. It is that they are too weak to bear the weight that the EU's institutions have placed on them.

And they are too weak precisely because of an ideology--the sound-finance ideology: gold and hard money are good, people should pay their debts, the bankers have sinned and because they sinned Greece and Spain must suffer.

So I would call for managerialism: for public intellectuals as people able to step back and bring what concerns ordinary people and should concern those who hold power and megaphones.

For this ideology that we have is, precisely, our great-grandmother's capitalism. It is the "austerity" of Baldwin and Churchill and Coolidge and Hayek and Hoover and Mellon and MacDonald and Norman. It came a-crash in 1929. Yet, somehow, it is back. And it is coming a-crash again. Then the cost was 1933, 1939, and 1945. Now--we hope--the cost will be less. But we must make it so.